The labour of love of over forty contributors, including both developers and adventure game junkies, this short gem should tickle your horror bone and make you feel wistfully nostalgic for games of this type at the same time.
Released for free on Steam on the 30th of January, Serena is available for PC, Mac and Linux, is around an hour long in playtime and is recommended to be played while sitting on a waterproof chair.
Serena really isn’t that scary. Even though it’s professedly a highly detailed horror game, there are no jump scares, and there was only one scene that almost made me leap from my seat.
You play as Serena’s husband, bumbling about a homey cottage and wondering just where your dear wife has gotten to. You can’t quite seem to remember anything at first. Not her face, nor the colour of her hair – not even the last time you made love together. The game is also a one-room dealio, but the contents of the cabin are so rich that this doesn’t detract from the gameplay in the least.
The way the horror in Serena is crafted is very subtle and even surprising to the player when things seem to gradually take a turn for the worse. Just the little things at first, like the poem on the wall changing from words of whimsy to twisted verse, the intonation of the protagonist’s voice gradually getting more rageful and the scraps that you begin to remember after jogging your memory a little.
The story takes you along for the ride, along with the wonderfully atmospheric background noise, which includes an incessantly ticking cuckoo clock and some beautifully melancholy music. Serena is also totally voice acted by adventure game designer Josh Mandel and Pushing Up Roses, which is a nice touch and only adds to the immersion in the game and its tale.
I was surprised to find out that this game was actually a tribute to a lady named Serena, a vocal advocate for the promotion of adventure games in the gaming community – not because she didn’t deserve it, but because the game itself is quite… odd, and the character she’s named after is a bit off, too.
After some turmoil in the adventure gaming community between Paul Trowe and Serena Nelson, the developers in the genre banded together to create this tribute to her and her work in the community, to counter-balance the damage that had been done to both her and the others it had affected. It’s a strange kind of tribute, which you may understand if you’ve played the game, but it’s a tribute, nonetheless.
Serena keeps you guessing right until the credits roll, and you probably won’t understand exactly what happened even by the end of the game. It’s a nice touch to keep you questioning the story and just what unfolded between the characters, rather than finishing it up nice and square with a bow on top.
My only qualm with the game was that it was often difficult to understand what was needed to progress to the next stage of the story, only to find out that usually it’s down to time and a lot of clicking. I also had some issues being unable to exit the game after the credits rolled while also having my cursor stuck to the top-left of the screen, but seems like merely a technical issue.
The story takes a short while to get engaging as it’s a bit ho-hum at the start, but the ending is well worth the wait, so for zero dollars, Serena is definitely worth an hour of your time.
You can download Serena for free on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux here.